Last night’s show at the recently re-vamped Adelaide Entertainment Centre — my 10th show of the current LC DownUnder tour — was an important one for me, for several reasons. Adelaide, as my screen name suggests, is my home town, and somehow that gives me a vested interest in making sure that the local audience greets Leonard with the respect and reverence (I believe) he deserves. Adelaide (or more precisely a McLaren Vale winery just south of Adelaide) is also the place I first saw Cohen perform live, after 20 years of being an avid fan (but having no opportunity to attend a concert). The McLaren Vale winery show was an incredible experience for lots of other reasons too (see the review I wrote at the time here)
Another reason that this show was a special one for me was that I had the supreme good fortune to be able to meet up with another member of the Leonard Cohen Forum — AlanM — and his circle of Cohen fans, some recent, some longstanding. As with everyone I’ve met as I’ve travelled around New Zealand and Australia, Alan and his crew were wonderful warm people, enthusiastic about Leonard’s words and music. It was particularly nice to talk with a few of Alan’s “recent converts” to Cohen, both before and after the show, just to get their fresh and new perspective on how in their eyes the concert experience compares to having seen the DVDs or heard the CDs. I will leave it to Alan himself to describe his adventures on the night — he clearly came prepared for capturing some great photos and videos to share with the forum; I’m sure we all have some treats on the way.
The Adelaide Entertainment Centre is an ok venue for a big and boxy arena thingamy — yes, I would have far preferred to see Leonard and band perform across the road at the Governor Hindmarsh Hotel (a great live music venue), but I’m not sure he’s doing pub gigs to 500 anymore 🙂 The Ent Centre has recently undergone a bit of a facelift, which reworked the entire entrance area adding a massive illuminated rigid canopy and new ticket offices etc. The auditorium itself seemed pretty much as I remember it … Sound on the night was probably better than average for venues I’ve seen Cohen at recently.
As I have already written elsewhere, the biggest news in relation to this concert is that Sharon Robinson was not on stage at all. I don’t know why this was the case … and (to date) there has been no official explanation made. I can only assume she is again having some issues with her voice, as occurred during the European leg of the tour. On that occasion, she ended up missing quite a number of shows … here’s hoping that doesn’t happen this time. The idea that she has a bit of a voice problem is supported by some unsteadiness in her voice during some of her solos back in Hobart (the preceding concert, Monday this week). Although not included in my report from that show, at the time I did note that her soaring intro to Boogie Street seemed a little shaky compared to its normal rock solid sound. Perhaps whatever was plaguing her that night has persisted a bit …
Sharon’s absence from the line-up had a suprisingly large impact on the overall performance of the band, in both obvious and subtle ways. Some songs were obviously absent from the set list because they relied on her vocals — Boogie Street was of course out, but so was In My Secret Life. On a more intangible level, it seemed to me as though the removal of one member of the now-very-tightly-knit ensemble in some way “unbalanced the humours” in the band’s dynamics and lead to Leonard and the remaining band retreating back into a fairly safe but unadventurous delivery of the songs. Because of this, I think that this performance by the band is the most “typical” or “generic” of the shows I’ve seen so far on this tour. Don’t get me wrong — the musical and vocal delivery on the night was excellent, and extremely well received by the audience. It just didn’t seem to me as spontaneous as some of the performances I’ve seen.
Despite my anxieties, the Adelaide audience was actually very enthusiastic right from the time Leonard first took to the stage. I know that AlanM and others from his group thought that early reactions were a bit muted, but from where I was sitting the crowd seemed just as energetic as the Hobart crowd (minus the Dog Boy) and Melbourne, Night 2. Applause was generous throughout and there was a lot of other rumblings and whistles (particularly at the beginning and after the interval) which gave the occasion a nice energy. The crowd response to the end of Set 2 and to each of the encores was both loud and unusually long — literally it seemed as though the crowd was just going to unrelentingly continue cheering, stomping and calling “more!” for as long as it took for the band to come back on stage. I think it was this manifest energy and enthusiasm that lead to Leonard deciding to perform (apparently on the spur of the moment, see below) a third encore, something we haven’t seen on the NZ / Australian tour since opening night in Auckland.
One particularly notable element of the crowd’s generous response was the blonde lady in white (centre, about three rows back from the front) who had brought with her a laminated A4 sign which she waved above her head as the crowd were applauding songs. From where I was sitting it wasn’t possible to see what was on her sign, but having seen her waving it around for most of Set 1, I decided to go over to talk to her during the interval. Strangely, because I was wearing my (home-made) LC Forum Lanyard, she seemed to initially mistake me for someone with some influence in the Leonard Cohen Universe. After clearing that up, she introduced herself as Helena, and told me she was “Leonard’s Number One Fan!” who had seen him several times in Australia and in Paris. Her laminated sign actually had just a big red heart on it (I managed to get a photo later on), but it had been autographed by Leonard at a previous concert. As it turns out, she was actually the woman that I had written about in my 2009 write-up of the McLaren Vale concert — the relevant excerpt is:
“11. There was a lovely lady in the audience that had brought a little placard — just a plain white piece of cardboard with a big red love-heart. She was waving it throughout much of the show, and the cameras seemed to pick her out in crowd shots. At the end of the first set, she went up to the security guys at the front of the stage … words were exchanged, and she handed over her placard and some other stuff … only to have it returned by one of LC’s crew a few minutes later — apparently signed! Or at least that’s how it looked. I didn’t think they were doing this sort of thing …”
The set list for Adelaide was quite similar to that played at Hobart on Monday night, with two songs being dropped (In My Secret Life and Boogie Street) due to Sharon not being on stage. Ordinarily this would have made the show fairly short, but thanks to the surprise addition of a third (long) encore, run time for the concert was about the same as Hobart and the second Melbourne show.
The songs played on the night were:
01 Dance Me To The End Of Love
02 The Future
03 Ain’t No Cure For Love
04 Bird On The Wire
05 Everybody Knows
06 Who By Fire
07 The Darkness (new spoken intro)
08 Chelsea Hotel #2
09 Waiting For The Miracle
11 Tower of Song
14 A Singer Must Die
15 Sisters Of Mercy
16 The Gypsy’s Wife
17 The Partisan
19 I’m Your Man
20 A Thousand Kisses Deep [recitation]
21 Take This Waltz
22 So Long, Marianne
23 First We Take Manhattan
24 Famous Blue Raincoat
25 If It Be Your Will
26 Closing Time
27 I Tried To Leave You
After having said above that the Adelaide performance had fewer elaborations than other concerts, thanks to my keen obsession for detail, I still noticed quite a number of curious and interesting things that made this show unique:
- Leonard’s Leather G-String: During her support set, Clare Bowditch jokingly encouraged the audience to go out to the lobby to buy her CDs, but only after buying one of the leather Leonard Cohen handbags … and one of the Leonard Cohen leather G-strings. After this joke she said that it was probably just as well the tour was almost over, since she was bound to get into trouble for saying that 🙂
- Leonard’s Voice: After noting some huskiness for the second part of the Hobart show, I’m happy to report that his voice was great throughout the whole show in Adelaide
- Neil Larsen: Neil seemed on fire last night … I’m not sure whether it was due to the organ being a little higher in the mix on some songs, but his contribution to many of the songs was remarkable
- Leonard’s Guitar Playing: I don’t know why, but Leonard’s playing seemed strangely a lot “harsher” and “more violent” than on other nights. When he was finger plucking a note, particularly in the bass, he was doing it very hard and very suddenly. It added a different kind of dynamic (not to mention some fret buzz :-)) to some of the songs he plays solo.
- The Free-Roaming Camera: While not unique to the Adelaide show, it was interesting to see that one of the two video cameras driving the big screens was actually mobile, and used to film swooping approaches and pans. While this led to some interesting pictures, it would have been pretty annoying for the folks located in the front rows close to the mobile camera. AlanM and his crew seem to have particularly suffered — personally, I was far enough back that it wasn’t an issue.
- Dino’s Fish Hook Pendant: is back after having been absent from Hobart.
- The Future: (at the risk of stealing AlanM’s thunder, I will relate something he overheard while getting Charley Webb’s autograph:) When asked by an audience member whether the two Webbs limber up before the show to get ready for their cartwheels, Charley said that sometimes they do, but other times they wish afterwards that they had. She said that a couple of times Hattie had split her trousers during a cartwheel!
- Ain’t No Cure For Love: Leonard gave a short spoken intro: “Thanks so much. So very kind of you to greet us so warmly, but that’s just the problem .. there ain’t no cure for love”.
- Everybody Knows: This song was sung with a bit more of a hurried feel than usual. Leonard did a lot more of the lead singing in the choruses, presumably to cover the lines that Sharon normally sings. As a consequence he didn’t get to do his off-mic singing during choruses. Straight after the line “Everybody knows you love me baby” Leonard gave a humourless and hollow little laugh.
- Who By Fire: Javier’s “intro” (really now a full-blown solo song in its own right) was different again. This version had a distinctly Middle-Eastern feel to it. The main body of the song was performed slower and more deliberately than usual. In the outro played by Roscoe on the stand up bass, the tone of the bass sounded unusual and more buzzy than it normally does.
- The Darkness: Leonard’s spoken intro was “Well there’s a lot of it going around now. I hope you don’t catch it. I caught it.” Again there was the minor lyrical change “can’t use the alcohol”. With Sharon being absent from this song, I’d have to say that the backing singing becomes a lot more “angelic” than darkness.
- Anthem: Minor lyrical elaboration — straight after the line about the dove being bought again, Leonard sang “You see the dove, the holy dove, she’s never free”. During the band introductions, Dino did particularly well being described as playing the golden saxopohone, the silver guitar, the ebony clarinet AND all the instruments of wind. The line about Rafael clipping “its” toenails got a far bigger laugh here than it has anywhere else.
- Tower of Song: Coming back from the break, Leonard seemed a bit more relaxed. He gave the normal lines thanking the audience for coming back and describing how the keyboard went “by itself”. After receiving applause for his keyboard solo, he said: “That’s nothing, friends” (and gave a little laugh).
- Suzanne: The instrumental intro that Leonard used to “disguise” the beginning of this song (well that’s how I always thing of it) was much more elaborate than normal … and ironically ended with him playing the strumming pattern for Avalanche, before shifting into the opening pattern of Suzanne. Talk about confusing 🙂
- A Singer Must Die: Minor lyrical variation — “Your knees in the balls, your fist in the face”
- The Gypsy’s Wife: In a strange lyrical stutter, Leonard ended up singing about the “bride’s bouquet” and then adding “OK” to the beginning of the next line and slurring it into “Where, Where, Where is my Gypsy wife.” Strangely it kinda worked.
- The Partisan: This was sung as per the Hobart show, including the French line beginning with something that sounds (to my untrained ears) a bit like “comrade”
- Hallelujah: Before starting the second verse (“Your Faith was strong”), Leonard left a few bars of instrumental. Namecheck — “I didn’t come to Adelaide to fool you”
- I’m Your Man: As has been the case in most recent shows, this song got a huge response from the Adelaide crowd. Audience members were even speaking along with his delivery of the line “I’m Your Man”. We got the elaboration “you know damn well you can” and the line “If you want to try a crazy kind of love, ok, I’ll wear an old man’s mask for you”.
- A Thousand Kisses Deep: Leonard gave quite an empassioned recitation of this poem, giving it a much more vulnerable voice. You could almost say it sounded like a desperate pleading to someone. An interesting variation on the normal performance, and very heartfelt.
- Take This Waltz: At the end of his band and crew introductions, Leonard also thanked the audience: “for this wonderful evening that you’ve given us. It’s been grand. It’s been an honour to play for you.”
- First We Take Manhattan: Neil provided some killer organ playing on this. Also the organ really sat high in the mix for this performance, which gave the song a bit of a different feel. I thought it was a great version, and the crowd response was nuts.
- Famous Blue Raincoat: There was also a huge audience response to this song, a response which went on for a long time. Several people called out — “We love you leonard” and several other calls that I couldn’t make out.
- Closing Time: I haven’t gotten around to writing about it previously, but Leonard and Dino have had a little thing going at the point in the song where Leonard sings “once for the Devil and once for Christ.” Normally, the two of them point a finger at the floor to signify “the Devil” and then point up to the sky on “Christ”. Or sometimes they ironically do it in reverse. Well, they *didn’t* do that at the Adelaide performance — instead, when talking about the “the Devil” Dino made a pair of horns with the fingers of one hand and held that on top of his head. Leonard’s vocals towards the end of this song seemed to be straying into country crooner territory, which is quite atypical for him. He gave a final-sounding set of parting words: “Oh friends, I’d like to drink with and sing with you all night through, but you see … they ought to hand the night a ticket (etc). They’re stacking up (etc). Been so great singing for you tonight friends. Well they’re shutting down the Budweiser sign and the parking lot is dark. I hope you can find your way to your car and drive home and avoid catching a summer cold. “
- Third Encore: After Closing Time had finished, the band looked like it was getting ready to leave for good. People were picking up their equipment and jackets. The huge cheer from the crowd, however, didn’t seem to be relenting … and then suddently Leonard was back on-stage and the band were all making U-turns back to their positions. Quite unexpected for all concerned I think.
- I Tried To Leave You: Leonard played the longer-than-usual live version of this song, which includes the second verse (“The years go by”). As this song was performed, I heard some really huge ecstatic screams coming from the back of the floor area — some folk were clearly very excited :-). During his drum solo, Rafael did his normal trick of throwing his brush up into the air … this time it came down forward of the drums and almost got caught by Roscoe (but Raf snatched it in time). Even after this song had ended and the band had departed the stage, there were still a lot of people in the crowd yelling for more! I guess it’s always good to leave ’em wanting more!
From here on out, all the shows on the DownUnder tour are landmark shows for some reason or another. Next we have Hanging Rock on Saturday, which is the only outdoor concert on the tour. After that we have the tour closing show in Perth on Thursday. Sometime soon after that, I guess my life goes back to normal … sadly.